Collision, Part 2: God’s Storyline vs. Our Expectations

Years ago, I was joking with a family member that I needed to pray for more patience, because I was seriously lacking in that fruit of the spirit at the moment. My family member responded, sounding alarmed, “Don’t pray for patience! God will send you things to test your patience!”

This past Monday, my husband posted a blog about our heart’s common response to God’s use of difficulty in our lives as a means of bringing out His good work, and as I was thinking about how hard it is to embrace those hard things that come into our lives as “God’s perfect plan” for us, I was reminded of that brief exchange.

There was a time very, very early in my relationship with Christ, when I was praying what was probably the first genuine prayer I’d ever prayed. I was in a fairly unhappy life situation at the time; I was divorced, a single working mother of three young children living far from family and with few, if any, real friends. I longed to move back home to Missouri, where I had family. However, divorce being the animal it is, it did not appear that moving home was anywhere in my near future.

Having recently begun regularly attending a new church, one that God used to ignite my heart for Christ, I’d begun to ask God that, if He wasn’t going to change my situation, would He please show me how to be at peace with where He had me. Shortly thereafter, He gave me my heart’s desire. Things fell into place such that I was able to move “back home” to Kansas City.

It was just as I’d really hoped it would be. I wanted to stop feeling so isolated, lonely and unhappy, and I wanted God to change those circumstances. Though I was ready, at that point, to see what else He might do to provide that peace I longed for, I still hoped He might just solve my problem the way I wanted Him to. In other words, I still wanted Him to make a way for me to come back to northwest Missouri, where I had a support system and people who loved me. And I was delighted when He revealed Himself to me by giving me my heart’s desire. It’s so easy to love God when prayers work out like that!

If we’re honest, isn’t that what we all want…all the time? We want God to provide us with what we want (and preferably on our timeline as well). Maybe we even pray around it, but we know God knows our hearts, and so we not-at-all-secretly hope that He will just give us what we want, even while we try to mouth the words, “Your will be done.”

His particular answer to that prayer, early in my faith, is still a treasured gift, a part of my “testimony” and not one that I take lightly. Much more often, though, my prayers get answered in a different way.

It didn’t take long after coming to Christ and entering into marriage again, this time as a fairly new believer, that my relationship with Warren began to reveal that I was much more prideful, independent and confident in my own abilities than I thought I was or knew I “ought to be.” So, knowing only Christ could help me change, I began asking Him to teach me how to be humble.

Well, He is indeed faithful. He has been answering that prayer ever since, and I don’t like it.

While He has answered that prayer in many ways over the years, as far as I can tell He has done His best work in teaching me humility by bringing difficult relationships into my life – the kind you can’t just walk away from. (No, not my husband. Well, OK – sometimes my husband – but that’s another blog.)

There have been many, many times when I have cried desperate, angry tears, railing against the reality that this is how God chose to work in my life to remove pride and arrogance. I was rather hoping – maybe even expecting – that when I asked for humility, He would simply begin to change my heart the way He did when He first called me to Himself, in a slow, lovely dawning of truth as He opened my eyes. I hadn’t asked for or planned on being rubbed up against a cheese grater for years. And here’s the key: had I known by what means He might answer my cry for help, I can’t believe I ever would have uttered that prayer. Had He given me foresight to see the path I’d have to walk, I don’t imagine I would have ever chosen it.

And yet, with hindsight, I can see what He has and is continuing to do in me, and I love Him for caring enough to shred me the way He has. That’s not to say I don’t still struggle to appreciate how He chooses to do it, but I have come to a place where I am grateful to see any progress, even while I can easily see I still have so far to go.

Isn’t this the struggle for all of us? We ask God to do mighty things in our lives…and then we hate the way He does it. We ask God to strengthen our faith…and He allows circumstances to come into our lives that will test our faith. We ask God to reveal Himself to us…and He breaks into our comfortable lives and makes changes that are painful, changes we don’t want Him to make! But it’s those changes that make it obvious that He is at work; He has certainly revealed Himself!

I’m not trying to suggest that every trial in our lives is an answer to prayer, or that God always answers prayer through difficulty. What I am trying to suggest is that our hearts, even at their best, are desperately selfish, and when we pray (for instance) for humility, what we really want is for God to send it down packaged nicely and for it to land softly into our laps.

Praise God that He loves us too much to give us what we want all the time!

When trials come into my life, as they so often do when you have a blended family post-divorce, I simply have to cling to the truth of Romans 8:28, that no matter how desperate the situation appears from my end of things, that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him. I also have to remind myself that this promise doesn’t necessarily define “good” as “good in the here and now.” Too often we can’t see any temporal good. And often enough, it may well be that there is no temporal good. But if you look closely at His promise in that verse, it doesn’t say that God works all things for the good of those who love Him in this life.

Romans 8:28 used to stand alone as one of my favorite verses, but nowadays while verse 28 offers me the hope I need in the midst of trials, it’s verse 29 that offers me the perspective. Romans 8:29 says that God is working all things for our good so that we will be conformed to the image of His Son.  This is the “good” that verse 28 refers to.  Therefore, we can be confident that God is working all things – chronic health issues, divorce, difficult relationships, loneliness, financial hardships, unemployment, the death of a loved one, and everything else – to cause us to become more selfless, more humble, more loving…more Christ-like, and that this is our ultimate good.  This truth is easy to say, but very often difficult to believe.

It was God’s sweet and gentle mercy that He answered that early prayer of mine in a relatively trial-free way, and that He did so in a way that allowed me to “get what I wanted.” Too often what we want is not what’s best for us, and He has since then shown me time and time again that His plan for me is exquisitely and infinitesimally better than mine.

I still thank Him for moving me back to Missouri, and I regularly thank Him for changing my heart in ways only He can, even through the pain that He’s allowed into my life. I’ve been slow to get to the place where I can honestly say that.  I can’t guarantee I’ll not rail against the next trial that comes. But one thing I think I do know: I absolutely believe that God is using all things – the good and especially the bad – for my good, to cause me to be conformed more and more into the likeness of His Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ.

If I really believe that, how can I not fall down on my knees and thank Him for loving me enough to give me what I really need?

Romans 8:28-29
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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